A majority of Americans say they feel hopeful about President Bush’s second term, but those hopes are clouded by doubts about when the bloodshed in Iraq will end.
People say Iraq should be the president’s highest priority, according to an Associated Press poll that found that those surveyed are not optimistic a stable government will take hold there.
After winning re-election, Bush is preparing to pursue an ambitious agenda that includes efforts to change Social Security, federal tax laws and medical malpractice awards.
Ahead of Bush’s inauguration on Thursday, 60 percent of those asked said they were hopeful, compared to 39 percent who said they were not. Asked whether they were worried, 47 percent said yes and 53 percent said no. Most said they were neither angry nor excited about his final four years in office.
Iraq was cited most often as the president’s highest priority, according to the poll conducted for the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs. Some 53 percent of those questioned said it is unlikely that Iraq will have a stable government.
'More than just Iraq'
“Iraq remains the kind of thing that could completely take over the term, if the situation gets a lot worse,” said Charles Franklin, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “It’s a good idea for the president to push new domestic proposals. He has to find a way to have the whole second term be about more than just Iraq.”
More than 1,350 U.S. troops have died in Iraq. Deadly attacks by insurgents are on the rise as the Jan. 30 elections near.
Bush is presiding over a nation much changed from the one when he took office in January 2001. The Sept. 11 attacks have changed everything, from the shape of government and the health of the economy to the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.
Half of those questioned in the AP poll said relations with other countries are worse than they were four years ago, while four in 10 said they are the same. One-quarter of Republicans said relations with other countries are worse.
Bush’s domestic wish list — with its focus on allowing private accounts in Social Security for younger Americans, limiting lawsuit awards and overhauling the tax laws — could gain momentum from the increased GOP majorities in the House and Senate. But Republican lawmakers are showing a willingness to challenge Bush’s proposals.
Close behind Iraq in public concerns for Bush’s second term is the economy, which moved past terrorism as a top concern in AP polls in the past two months. Social Security was named as a top issue by only 9 percent, taxes by 2 percent.
After picking up in 2004, the economy probably will slow this year, influenced by rising interest rates, higher energy costs and the lack of a new tax cut, economists say.
People were relatively optimistic about their own personal finances in the next year. Four in 10 said they expect their own situation to improve and a similar number said they expect it would stay the same the same, according to the poll of 1,000 adults that was taken Jan. 10-12. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Three years ago, more people in an AP poll thought their finances would be getting better in the year after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Public perceptions of the president’s personal strengths are his biggest asset today.
Almost two-thirds of those polled described Bush as likable, strong and intelligent. A majority said he is dependable and honest.
“These times are probably the most stressful and insecure times in this country’s history,” said Evelyn Hicks, a Republican from Gainesville, Fla. “But I’m confident with my president. He’s genuine and has convictions. He’s not intimidated into trying to say the right things.
People were evenly split on whether Bush is arrogant — a divide that followed party lines. Democrats said Bush can succeed purely by his doggedness.
“What concerns me most is that he’s doing everything that ought not to be done,” said Ron Luckie, a Democrat from Atlanta. “If he’s successful in everything he’s attempting to do, it will not be good for our country.”